Smart Farming – Agriculture 4.0 - Part II
On the risks of new technology
Like it or not, the topic of digitalisation is one which we must address: From many perspectives it offers real opportunities in agriculture; at the same time, however, it is accompanied by multiple risks, all of which must be identified and assessed appropriately. In this regard, monopolisation, data protection and effects on health are topics which must be discussed.
Given the enormous market power of agricultural corporations, one cannot expect digitalisation to alter the supply chain’s balance of power in favour of (small) farms. Digitalisation promotes monopolisation, and marginalised small-scale farming producers run the risk of being left behind. In addition to mergers and acquisitions, network effects and the economies of scope and scale also have a considerable impact in the digital agriculture. Dependency on agricultural corporations increases if other available options are further reduced and, in turn, changing farm management systems becomes more onerous. The use of high-tech machinery pays off only if the farm is of or above a certain size. Farms which are already feeling the pinch will find life even more difficult in the future: This kind of investment increases the pressure on small businesses, and forces them into the position of having to merge or outsource tasks to service organisations. Value may migrate to other sectors (IT and agricultural machinery) while primary production will lose value.
Data protection, data security, data sovereignty
The protection of personal data is governed by the EU General Data Protection Regulation (EU-GDPR) and by national regulations. Principles of legality, purpose limitation, data minimisation and storage limitation regulations must be observed, alongside those of integrity and confidentiality. Problems arise, however, when data is non-personal, i.e. in the case of data generated by machinery and stored in a database or in the Cloud, as is often the case with digital technology in agriculture. In this case, neither the aforementioned legal principles nor property law as provided for in the Civil Code apply, and the use and protection of data must be agreed upon and safeguarded by private law contracts. This form of contractual arrangement has, to date, been the only means of providing clarity regarding the question of data sovereignty. In the future, an appropriate legal basis must be established to meet the industry-specific demands of agriculture.
Creating the prerequisites for the digital future of agriculture is only possible through fibre-optic technology. For this reason, the development of modern, sustainable networks is already rapidly underway. In the expansion of high-performance internet services, the gaps in rural areas must be closed as quickly as possible, as these networks will ultimately provide the essential basis for the digital technology used. In order to ensure that network connections are as efficient as possible, provisions are being made worldwide for the introduction of fifth generation (5G) mobile phone networks using higher frequencies and bandwidths, as fast internet services require a stable connection. However, if there is an increase in the number of antennae used to amplify low-frequency wavebands, we would be constantly exposed to the permanent influence of radiation.
Impact on health and the environment
Experts warn us that the electro-magnetic field (EMF) generated by radiation-emitting devices such as mobile and cordless phones and radio antennae can pose health risks. These effects include an increased risk of cancer, cellular stress, harmful free radicals, genetic damage, structural and functional changes of the reproductive system, learning and memory deficits, neurological disorders and general negative impacts in human wellbeing. Moreover, it is not only human beings who will be affected: Mounting evidence indicates that the harmful effects of electromagnetic radiation will also affect animals and plants.
Digitalisation should not by any means supplant the agricultural experience but, rather, complement it by focussing on eco-friendly, resource-efficient farming. It should not be a matter of producing raw materials at the lowest possible prices, but of easing the strain of working life for farmers. The goal should be that of creating added value for society, and improving the quality of life for both people and animals.